Alaska Oil Won't Make Big Difference, Geologist Says

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Caribou grazing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Caribou grazing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Getty Images

Even if the United States started drilling in the currently protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the impact on rising oil prices would be negligible, says geologist Ken Deffeyes.

President Bush has been urging drilling in protected wilderness areas as a way of easing the current gas crisis. He says that drilling in the refuge, often referred to by the acronym ANWR, could produce about a million barrels of oil a day, according to Department of Energy estimates. "That would be about a 20 percent increase of crude oil production," the president said, "and it would likely mean lower gas prices."

Deffeyes, who is both a former oil company geologist and professor emeritus at Princeton University, says that President Bush's estimate of a million barrels a day is a plausible increase. "But just barely," he says.

Deffeyes says even if ANWR oil production were successful, it wouldn't make much of a difference. "Every little bit helps," he says. "But it is a little bit."

There would be considerable political obstacles to drilling in currently protected wilderness areas of Alaska, and the uncertain environmental impact could have its own costs, in addition to the cost of drilling, itself. Even if drilling were to begin immediately, Deffeyes says, we wouldn't see the oil on the market for five years, at best.

But as for the overall rationale of ANWR drilling — that it would help to push down oil prices — Deffeyes says it would likely have little impact. Oil prices, he says, are largely a function of international, not just domestic, supply and demand. "The price of oil is responding in part to a huge increase in demand as China and India pull their way up out of poverty," he explains. "In addition, Russia and the Middle Eastern countries are consuming more of their own oil."

Deffeyes, author of Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak, spoke to NPR's Bryant Park Project in the first of a series of interviews about solutions to increasing fuel prices. Next up: Would more refineries help?



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